Opinion: Cats on campus are a public safety issue for students and staff

Feline critters roam campus, inviting students and some staff to take care. The invasion may point to larger community concerns.


Angel Arjona

This tortoise calico cat was recently seen on the north side of Colton High’s campus. It is just one of several strays that are regularly seen wandering campus.

Colton, CA—Megan Kelley, Colton High’s athletic trainer, keeps a bag of cat food in her office at the back of Memorial Stadium.

It’s not for the students that come through her office. It is for the stray cats that wander onto campus. “I’ve seen quite a number of cats come through here,” Kelley said.

This area, between rooms 541 and 542 on the CHS campus, has been turned into a cat bed. Students often bring cans of food to leave for the animals to ensure they are fed and cared for. (Tyler Morales)

Everyday strays wander the streets of Colton looking for food, but for one to wander into a school seems comical and absurd. It’s the sort of thing Instagram accounts were made for. 

While the cuteness of cats is fun to think about, there are concerns about not only harboring unknown animals, but also the safety of students. These animals do not have identified owners, and while they look harmless there are still dangers and larger issues to consider.

The stray pet population in San Bernardino County is estimated to be more than one million, according to an article by Joe Nelson in the San Bernardino Sun on August 8th.

The article elaborates on how the large stray cat population is rising. It also states there is a lack of animal control services available to meet the challenges of such a large number of strays.

Kris Watson, Director of City of San Bernardino Animal Services presented her idea with a hint of irony. “Pets that are unsheltered can create more puppies and kittens.” 

Research proves this to be true.

Local animal shelters have reported thousands of cats and dogs running around Colton without an owner. Many circumstances out of the owners’ control have caused the animals to run out beyond the home. In some cases, this is as simple as poor fencing, but sometimes the issues are much larger and point to a bigger societal concern: widespread poverty. For many pet owners, the cost of veterinarian care is too high, even for necessary services like spaying and neutering, or vaccination. And for those that may find a low cost option, transportation is often an issue since public transit does not allow pets onboard buses.

In many cases, pet owners in lower-income areas leave behind their pets when they find themselves having to relocate due to rising costs that prohibit them from being able to afford both a house and pet supplies. 

What is the city of Colton doing about this problem? There are zero animal shelters in Colton. 

“We don’t have any animal control officers,” Colton police officer Anthony Elisarraraz said. “We have other positions here in the department that are undertaking this big task.”

We don’t have any animal control officers. We have other positions here in the department that are undertaking this big task.

— Anthony Elisarraraz, CHS School Resource Officer

That being said, the fact there are multiple stray cases is just the tip of the iceberg. Why aren’t there more animal control officers? What does this mean for the stray population? Will there be solutions in the future?

There were two officers who worked for animal control in the city, but they both retired in 2017. Currently, without any animal control officers in the department, Officer Elisarraraz said the department is reviewing applications to fill these vacancies.

Meanwhile the population of strays continues to grow, as do the number of calls from individuals in the community. Generally animal control calls are frequent, as many as 15 a day reporting bites from vicious animals and strays. On this note, one report from Colton PD states that a little girl was attacked by feral dogs on Valley Boulevard.

So while it may seem cute to run across a stray cat or dog on school campus, they may not be so cute if they feel provoked. While cats are often considered independent creatures, allowed to come and go as they please, dogs are more difficult to manage, and even cats shouldn’t be underestimated. They can bring with them problems ranging from basic allergies to potential contraction of rabies. 

Places like the San Bernardino City Animal Shelter are doing their best to offer free neuter/spay services along with other animal services. They report that they have received a grant that will allow them to provide mobile veterinarian care for residents of the city without the means to travel to or afford traditional veterinarian services. This service should be available around summer of 2023.

As for now, there are still issues regarding animal poverty and reduced animal control. Unfortunately with the lack of people volunteering for the task, and a limited number of services available, it seems a solution is very distant. Naturally, the community should work together to resolve this matter, but the city of Colton should also look into solving this as well.